Magical Thinking, Deepities, and Massage Therapists

Posted on: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 11:50pm By: Alice

About a month ago, I shared some of my thoughts about energy work from the point of view of an evidence-based massage therapist. To my surprise, that blog article got quite a bit of attention and sparked some fascinating conversations. The issue of energy work is one of the most divisive and yet, in my opinion, one of the most important issues in the field of massage therapy today. Unfortunately, when the subject comes up, the conversation usually gets pretty contentious quickly. I was pleased to see some discussion that was thoughtful and respectful.

Coincidentally, around the same time I posted that article, Massage Magazine published an article by David Lauterstein that attempted to build a bridge between energy workers and science-based therapists. Ravensara Travillian, a massage therapist in Seattle, saw Lauterstein's thoughtful article as an important event and wrote her own carefully crafted response at POEM, the Project for Open Education in Massage. Clearly, the subject was in the air and it appeared that, possibly for the first time, it was being discussed in a thoughtful, respectful, civilized manner. Where this discussion will lead is uncertain, but the fact that it is taking place is good news to at least some therapists.

Of course, when you become aware of something in particular, you start noticing it everywhere and shortly afterwards I found other relevant, well-written articles. I had already read Todd Hargrove's  wonderful article on "Deepities." Todd is a rolfer in Seattle who has a real gift with words. His recent article, "Why Massage is Like Chicken Sexing," is yet another eloquent addition to the dialogue taking place in the massage therapy community. Todd beautifully describes the mostly unconscious learning experience that can lead many massage therapists to magical thinking.

I do believe that sharing carefully considered thoughts and describing our experiences accurately helps us all to get a clearer understanding of what it is we do. Like the scientific process itself, as we put our thoughts out there for others to examine, question, critque, and comment upon, we all learn.

Thanks, Todd, for such a beautiful contribution to the conversation!

Thank you Alice, for bringing this "conversation" together in one place.

You're welcome.

Really, I wanted to draw attention to Todd's article about "Why Massage is Like Chicken Sexing" because it so neatly fits into the conversation. I'm not sure if I did a good enough job of that so I'll emphasize it here: you must read his article! Besides, as Todd commented elsewhere, you know that with a title like that, quality content is sure to follow!

And I wanted to put it into a context so that anyone who has not been part of the ongoing conversation could easily find out if they so desired. Or those who have been in on part of it can be aware of other parts. There's been some beautiful, articulate writing and I'm happy to see it.

Some science-based therapists have wondered at times how it is that they sometimes "know" something they had no obvious reason for knowing. They find it hard to explain it rationally and then they are confronted with a cognitive dissonance. Since I myself have had this happen many times, I've occasionally put some thought into examining exactly why it was I "knew" something I couldn't quite explain.

I described one incident in a comment on Todd's blog. I was working on one of the dancers with Riverdance. The guy was one of the Russian dancers, the oldest member of the troupe, both in age and in that he'd been with the show since the beginning. He was clearly getting worn down by nine years of performance that involved a lot of jumping. I noticed something in his hamstring that felt like "old injury" to me. When I am working on a performer just before a performance, I am very careful not to say anything that might undermine their confidence, but I wanted to ask about this thing that I felt. So I asked him, rather neutrally, "How does this feel?" He said it hurt. Moments later he added that he'd pulled his hamstring two years before and it still bothered him. Wow, I thought, did I nail that or what? Later, when I told a friend, she asked how did I know? It made me think very, very carefully about what I'd felt. I concluded that after many years and thousands of hours of having my hands on thousands of bodies in various states of injury, that without being aware of it, my hands felt subtle differences in the tissues in acute, subacute, and chronic states of injury. This happened without my conscious attention.

There are things that we know that we know and there are things that we don't know that we know. That was one of those times when I found out I'd learned something that I didn't realize I'd learned and didn't realize how I'd learned it. To someone less analytical, it could seem magical. Indeed, it can. I don't always think so much about these things. Sometimes, I just shrug it off. But, as an answer to magical thinking, I offer it as a more plausible explanation.

Todd describes it beautifully and I wanted to share it with my fellow massage therapists.